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REVIEW | Paper Cities Edited by Ekaterina Sedia

Paper Cities had been sitting on my to read shelf staring at me forlornly for many months and since it was recently nominated as one of the Best Anthologies of the Year for the World Fantasy Award I thought it was high time I got to it. I always find anthologies to be a very mixed bag. I read them occasionally either because a couple of my favorite authors contribute or because I like the theme of the anthology as with Ann & Jeff VanderMeer's wonderful Steampunk also nominated this year. In general most anthologies don't have a consistent level of writing throughout, but Paper Cities goes against that theory. Nearly ever story was well done and those I didn't care for it wasn't from lack of talent but rather the aim of the story. Paper Cities also made me rethink what I define Urban Fantasy as. In the past I would have said any story set in a modern city with traditional elements of fantasy whether it used magic, odd supernatural elements, fairies, or any other creatures of myth in some fashion. Jess Nevins's Foreword is a good start to expanding your world view of Urban Fantasy as he intimates any story set in a Metropolis whether they be cities at the dawn of time to Modern locales or into the very depths of sewers beneath them. Instead of discussing each story I'll just point out some stand-outs for me. Hal Duncan's The Tower of Morning Bones is the author's attempt at writing a story around the world's first city. It is amazingly lyrical and almost poetic in its style. Duncan's short stories never disappoint. Richard Parks' Courting the Lady Scythe is one of the most unexpected stories in the bunch about a man in love with an Executioner. He stirred odd emotions in me about what getting what you want could really mean. I also think Parks could do more with the mythology he setup. Greg van Eekhout's Ghost Market was one of the shortest tales and also one of my favorites. It is the type of story you think is going one way when it veers into a different yet satisfying direction. The unusual aspect of the main character could easily be expanded into a longer form at some point, which I would happily dip into. It is so short if I mention much it would ruin the reveal. Cat Sparks' Sammarynda Deep is a deeply endearing revenge story with an incredibly rich mythology for such a small number of pages. Sparks left me begging for further stories in this land with its magical pool. I hope she revisits it in the future. Sparks also won the Aurealis Award for best fantasy short story for this entry. Mark Teppo's The One That Got Away is about the intersecting of fantasy with reality as a Unicorn is seen by some in a city park. The group goes on their own Wild Hunt to prove to themselves it is real. This story acts as a cautionary tale about following fairy tales. Vylar Kaftan's Godivy was the strangest story in the bunch and it still has me perplexed, which means it left a lasting impression. A man in love with a copier at work is trying to fend off the advances from his boss, while also trying to get his morning coffee. Strange stuff, but oddly funny. Darin C. Bradley's They Would Only Be Roads combines a modern sense of Urban Fantasy with a good tech thriller aspect. Bradley created a character with a lot of levels with amazing ease in a wonderfully paced fashion, but this did feel like an opening salvo to a much larger tale. David Schwartz's The Sombnambulist is the best use of the sleepwalking warrior-slave idea I've read. He managed to fit in a lot of interesting vignettes ala Indiana Jones, which made it a lot of fun as well

Sedia did a wonderful job of setting the stories in a manner that led well from one style to next and I could feel her touch in many of the tales. I give Paper Cities 8 out of 10 Hats. Sedia is set to release her third anthology Running with the Pack in late 2010 and her fourth novel The House of Discarded Dreams in May 2010 both from Prime Books. Sedia had already become an author to watch, now she has become an Editor to trust. Paper Cities has a strong possibility of winning the World Fantasy Award even against some tough competition and I'm sure we'll be seeing many of these authors around for years to come. Table of Contents: Jess Nevins - Foreword Forrest Aguirre - "Andretto Walks the King’s Way" Hal Duncan - "The Tower of Morning’s Bones" Richard Parks - "Courting the Lady Scythe" Cat Rambo - "The Bumblety’s Marble" Jay Lake - "Promises; A Tale of the City Imperishable" Greg van Eekhout - "Ghost Market" Cat Sparks - "Sammarynda Deep" Steve Berman - "Tearjerker" Stephanie Campisi - "The Title of This Story" Mark Teppo - "The One That Got Away" Paul Meloy - "Alex and the Toyceivers" Vylar Kaftan - "Godivy" Michael Jasper - "Painting Haiti" Ben Peek - "The Funeral, Ruined" — Read this story online Kaaron Warren - "Down to the Silver Spirits" Darin C. Bradley - "They Would Only be Roads" Jenn Reese - "Taser" David Schwartz - "Somnambulist" Anna Tambour - "The Age of Fish, Post-flowers" Barth Anderson - "The Last Escape" Catherynne M. Valente - "Palimpsest" — Read this story online

Book link: US Europe Canada Here is the book trailer:


Adam said...

I agree about the inconsistency in anthologies, but I have been meaning to pick this one up because I am intrigued by the whole urban fantasy genre. Thanks for the heads-up.

jared said...

This sounds great. I'm definitely buying it.